PARIS, France - Competing in her first Grand Slam match since her 2017 Australian Open triumph, Serena Williams survived a tough opening test against tricky lefty Kristyna Pliskova to move into the second round at the French Open.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion - currently ranked No.451 and on the comeback trail after taking maternity leave last year - needed a few games to find her rhythm but managed to hold off Pliskova’s challenge, 7-6(4), 6-4.
“I think the match went well. It wasn't an easy match, because the beginning was so many aces,” Serena said in her post-match presser. “I knew that after her first game of serving, I said, ‘Okay, I have to serve really well today. I need to really be on my game serving-wise, because there's not going to be a tremendous amount of rallies.’
“I was struggling to get in a little rhythm because it was so much acing, so many aces going on.”
Serena struggled to read the Czech’s big serve in the opening exchanges, but came up with some firepower of her own to boss the points. Their match was punctuated by short rallies and powerful serving, and as a result there was not one break chance on offer for the first 11 games of the first set.
The American finally got her first look at a break point late in the set, sitting at 6-5 and a point away from taking the set, but a timely Pliskova ace - one of the 15 she fired during the match - slammed the door shut and forced a tiebreaker.
Pliskova made the perfect start, building up a 3-0 lead, but Serena canceled out the minibreak with three points in a row of her own. That streak extended it to six in a row, and Serena eventually closed out the tiebreak to take the set after Pliskova sailed a backhand long.
In stark contrast to the opening set, the second featured five breaks of serve between the pair and a couple of lengthy, back-and-forth games. Serena finally emerged with the lead to get ahead 4-3, and she held onto that one-break cushion to finish the match after an hour and 45-minute battle.
Pliskova’s 15 aces were the most any WTA player has hit against Serena since 2009, but the American responded with 13 aces of her own, despite hitting seven double faults. Her champion’s mentality also showed in the big points, hitting 29 winners and 25 unforced errors against Pliskova’s 34 and 33.
“I feel like I'm on the right track,” Serena said. “You know, I have been putting a lot of work in on the court, off the court, on the court, on the court, off the court, that's kind of been my life. I have been really enjoying it. Hopefully the results continue to show.”
Up next, Serena will take on No.17 seed Ashleigh Barty in the second round as she seeks a fourth Roland Garros crown, having triumphed here in 2002, 2013 and 2015.